Why Is My Dog Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?

Why is my dog aggressive towards other dogs?

Shih tzu aggression is a problem for many owners but one specific form of aggression I am most frequently asked about is “Why is my dog aggressive towards other dogs?” Most shih tzus are very affectionate and playful companion dogs but if not controlled, they can have an underlying vicious streak in certain circumstances. Before we go into how to prevent your shih tzu from behaving aggressively with other dogs, let’s find out the reasons why they do this.

Why Is My Dog Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?

There are two fundamental reasons why your shih tzu, or any dog for that matter, will display aggression towards another dog. The most common one is that he is scared of an unknown dog or one that he has had a previous aggressive encounter with. There are two different types of aggression that can be displayed under these circumstances, fear aggression and defensive aggression. The shih tzu could be defending you or another dog or pet from your household.

The other main cause of aggression towards another dog, and this could either be an unknown dog or another dog from your household, is possessiveness. Possessive aggression occurs when the shih tzu thinks something is going to be taken away from him.

Fear Aggression And Defensive Aggression

Just like us humans, some dogs are socially skilled naturally; for others, we have to work at it. Dogs that have these skills naturally or have been taught them since they were a puppy are unlikely to instigate an aggressive encounter with another dog. It is only those with poor or no social skills that are panicked into aggressive behavior when they encounter another dog. Puppies learn social skills naturally from their litter siblings but if they are taken away from them too early, it is up to the new owner to make sure these skills are learned.

A shih tzu puppy lacking in social skills.
ID: 169375906 © cynoclub | Depositphotos

A dog with fear aggression bought on by an approaching dog will display his fear with certain forms of body language. The types and combinations of these traits will vary from dog to dog but here are some of the more common ones:

  • The tail tucked between the legs and the ears pointing backward. This reflexive action leaves an assailant less to grab hold of while the tail between the legs has the added benefit of guarding the genital area.
  • Growling, barking and then lunging towards the other dog in an attempt to gain the dominant position.
  • Hiding behind the owner to avoid any retaliatory actions.
  • In most cases, the dog will try to avoid eye contact.

If a dog feels that his aggressive reactions have been successful, this body language may become more confident and assured as such incidents increase over time.

These reactions often start with growling and snarling when first noticing the other dog, progressing to barking and lunging towards the other dog as the distance between them decreases. If the two dogs get too close and one does not back down, there will almost certainly be snapping and biting resulting in injuries, perhaps serious ones.

Possessive Aggression

Shih tzu possessive-aggression.
ID: 35123417 © Jstaley401 | Depositphotos

This form of aggression occurs in some dogs when another dog or human tries to take away an item, such as a toy or treat, that the dog has possession of. The aggression may also be shown when just approaching a position that the dog has perceived as too close.

Households with more than one dog can experience possessive aggression from a dog if it becomes jealous over the attention another dog is giving the owner or vice versa.

Possessive aggression may also be displayed if the dog is hiding under the table or behind the sofa, for example, with an item it knows it shouldn’t have and the owner or a family member tries to take it away.

In either case, to protect the item the dog has in its possession, it will probably at first growl as a warning, followed by a lunge and snapping or biting if there has been no backing off.

A similar reaction can be expected form a dog showing possessive aggression of what he perceives as his territory, be it his bed, his home or a regularly visited spot outdoors.

Four Things Not To Do

  • Punishing your dog by shouting at him or even smacking him will only teach him that behaving aggressively is the correct way to behave. The same goes for electric shock or prong collars, aggressive punishments only lead to more aggressive behavior.
  • Similarly, pulling your dog back on the leash when encountering another dog will add to your dog’s excitement and anxiety, making the situation worse.
  • Attempting to calm your dog down will almost certainly communicate to him that his aggression has been successful.
  • In the case of encounters between two dogs, the owner physically removing one of the dogs will leave the other dog thinking that his aggression has paid off and encourage him to show more aggression in the future.

How To Prevent Your Shih Tzu Being Aggressive Towards Other Dogs

How to prevent a shih tzu from being aggressive towards other dogs.
ID: 21375171 © jbryson | Depositphotos

If your shih tzu is still a puppy, then you should start socializing him with other dogs. Ideally, get him used to interacting with dogs of his own size at first, then gradually move on to larger dogs and different breeds. Even if your shih tzu is older you can still do this although it will take longer and you will need to have complete control over him. 

Which brings us to …….

Putting Yourself In Control

  • Teach your shih tzu to respond to some basic commands such as “sit”, “stay” and “quiet”, the latter command being very useful to stop your dog barking. Teaching your shih tzu basic commands will not only make him more responsive to you but also give you the opportunity to positively reinforce his good behavior with a reward such as praise or a treat rather than punish his bad behavior.

For more information on stopping a shih tzu from barking, see my post:

How To Train A Shih Tzu Puppy Not To Bark

For more information on general shih tzu training, my friends at TrainPetDog have a free email course dedicated to the shih tzu breed. You can find this through the affiliate link below:

Shih Tzu Training

  • When you are out walking your shih tzu, teach him to walk to heel. This means having your shih tzu walk alongside you, not in front of you or behind you, and to walk at your pace and your choice of direction. If you have a dog you intend to put on show, he should walk on your left side. In real life, it doesn’t matter which side of you your dog walks.
  • If you’re having trouble walking your dog at the pace and in the direction of your choice and he starts pulling on the leash, turn him around and walk in the opposite direction. Continue to do this every time your shih tzu starts pulling. There are harnesses available designed to help with this. You can read about them here:

Dog Collars For Shih Tzus – Is A Harness Better?

  • If your shih tzu has previously shown aggression towards other dogs, you will know that there is a certain distance apart from the other dog where your dog’s reaction starts. When you are out walking your shih tzu and you see another dog approaching, at the point your shih tzu starts reacting, turn around and walk the other way. After a time, you may find the distance at which the reaction occurs decreasing. 
  • When the distance is small enough, walk past the other dog but on the opposite side of the road or path. Each time you’re out and walk past the dog, as long as your dog doesn’t react, reduce the distance slightly. Eventually, you should be able to walk past the other dog with your shih tzu at heel by your side without any problems.
  • Asserting your position as the Alpha of the pack will also contribute to ending aggressive encounters as your shih tzu will be more likely to accept your decisions. The simplest way of demonstrating your authority is to make sure that you walk through all exits and entrances in front of your shih tzu, particularly those at your home. It always surprises me at how effective this simple action is.
  • You may also like to take full control of feeding times. He who controls the food, what to eat and when, controls the pack. Place your shih tzu’s food in his bowl in the usual place and at the usual time. Call your shih tzu to eat and if he doesn’t come after the second or third call, take the food away and don’t put any more down until the next scheduled meal time. This is also a good remedy for fussy eaters!

For more reading on asserting your position as pack leader, take a look at:

How To Stop A Shih Tzu From Being Aggressive

Better Times Ahead

A trained shih tzu is a happy shih tzu!
ID: 132555328 © DragonImages | Depositphotos

I hope that you have enough information here to train the aggression out of your shih tzu and that you both have a more relaxed life together from now on. If you have any queries about this subject or anything to do with the shih tzu breed, please leave a comment below. Alternatively, you can drop a message to me using the contact us form.

Bye for now,

Shih Tzu Steve.

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4 thoughts on “Why Is My Dog Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?

  1. Hi my teddy is so sweet to people and female dogs but when we come in touch with boy dogs he starts growling and lungs at them teddy is about to be two please help me what are some tips I should do to train him to be around other dogs

    1. Hello Ronee,

      I have had exactly the same problem with my Charlie, who is now five. Here is how I have calmed him down, so that you can try the same with Teddy.

      I worked out that Charlie thought he was pack leader and as such his shows of aggression at other dogs was his way of trying to protect his pack, namely myself and Bruno.

      I knew that the first thing I needed to do was to assert my position as pack leader over Charlie. This I found quite easy to do using the three highlighted tips in my PDF guide,

      “7 Steps To A Happy Shih Tzu”

      You should already have received the link to download this guide as a free bonus for subscribing to my free newsletter list. At this point I would like to welcome you and to thank you for subscribing.

      So the first thing I would suggest you do with Teddy is to implement the three highlighted tips in the guide to ensure that he sees you as the pack leader. After that, it will be easier to train him.

      If Teddy is like Charlie, the pack leader training alone will not be enough. With Charlie, whenever I saw another dog approaching, or whenever I noticed that he had sensed another dog approaching, I made sure that I had shortened his leash to the minimum and had him walking to heel by my side.

      As we passed the other dog and Charlie began to react, I knew that the worst thing I could do was to shout at him to stop, as this would come across to him as if I was also reacting to the other dog and so backing up his action. The important thing for me to do was stay calm and keep walking with Charlie at heel as if nothing was happening, however much he reacted.

      Eventually things got better. It seemed to happen in stages. First, he would socialize with dogs his own size or smaller, but still react to the bigger dogs. Then he was okay with the bigger dogs except for the ones he knew of old. Now I have got him to the stage where he stays calm at all times when other dogs are around.

      When he does this, stays calm as we pass other dogs, I make sure that I praise him. Positive reinforcement is a very effective way of letting your dog know when he does something that pleases you as the pack leader.

      So remember for Teddy:

      • Become pack leader
      • Walk him to heel when passing other dogs
      • Do not react when he reacts, just carry on walking
      • Praise him when he gets it right.

      Be persistent with this, and the aggression should eventually go away.

      Best wishes,

      Shih Tzu Steve.

  2. Our Shih Tzu is a 2 yr old good boy but acts aggressive towards other dogs he doesn’t know. The covid isolation hasn’t helped much either in socializing him last year.
    He is an alpha male and is generally gentle with females but becomes very aggressive towards other males.
    Is he too old to change?

    1. Hello Jim, and hello Antje,

      Thank you for your query.

      A dog’s bad habits can be trained out of him whatever his age, though as a general rule the older the dog is, the longer it may take.

      The problem you are having with your shih tzu is similar to the problem I had with my Charlie. He is 5-years-old as I write.

      Like your boy, Charlie was fine with the ladies, but became aggressive when passing all male dogs.

      In my opinion, your shih tzu thinks that he is your pack leader. His displays of aggression are his attempt to drive perceived danger away from his pack, that is you guys.

      So the first step is to make sure that your shih tzu recognizes that you two as the pack leaders, not him. If you need any help with this, I have written a short PDF guide “7 Steps To A Happy Shih Tzu”. I have highlighted three of the seven steps as easy ways that will ensure that your shih tzu will see you as the leaders.

      The guide is free to download when you subscribe to me free newsletter.

      Click here to subscribe and receive your free guide.

      Your contact details will be stored on secure servers and never passed on to any third parties. You may unsubscribe at any time and still keep the guide.

      As part of the pack leader training I recommend walking your shih tzu to heel and by your side on a short leash, at least until you are sure the training is successful.

      When you pass other dogs and your shih tzu starts to behave aggressively, it’s important that you show no reaction, just keep on walking by as normal, apart from ensuring that you have a tight grip on the leash.

      Reacting to the situation or scolding your shih tzu will send him the wrong message. He will think that you are joining in and that he is doing the right thing.

      If you pass another dog, or you try socializing your shih tzu with another dog, and your shih tzu stays calm, make sure that you praise him and perhaps even give him a treat to show him that he is behaving correctly.

      I hope this helps.

      Shih Tzu Steve.

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